More kids

(why) I Don’t Want More Kids

More kids

“Why do you want more kids?” people ask me when they find out we’re planning to adopt. “Don’t you think you have enough already?”

I don’t know how to answer this question because I don’t know how many kids is enough.

Do I have enough kids to drink all the milk before it goes bad? Yes.

Do I have enough kids to make our own basketball team? Yes.

Do I have enough kids to finance our orthodontist’s dream trip to the Caribbean? Yes.

So…is that enough?

I find myself stumbling over answers because the question is all wrong. It infers that the reason for having children is to fulfill something in us, and people should only have the minimum number it takes to be personally satisfied.

When people say to me, “Don’t you have enough kids already?” the assumption is that I am somehow unfulfilled by the number of children in my home now. I need more children in order to be happy, and isn’t that selfish and irresponsible of me?

Why on earth would I want more?

The simple answer is, I don’t want more kids.

I do not want to add broken children to my manageable home. I do not want to risk my own children’s emotional or physical safety in order to take on someone else’s “problem.” I don’t want to pour my heart into a child who might hate me in return. I don’t want the lice. I don’t want the attachment disorders. I don’t want the sexual aggression, the lying, stealing, manipulating—any of it.

I am not lonely, or bored, or in need of affirmation. I don’t want more kids because I have some kind of superhero complex, or because I’m such a great mother. I don’t want more kids because somehow, five kids is not enough. Oh, no. Five kids is enough, and some days, I am not sure I can handle one more.

(Of course, I said that when I had one. And I said it when I had three. And now I have five and I really, really think it’s true this time.)

I don’t want more kids because I think I can handle more. I know the truth: in my own humanity, in my own weakness, I can’t.

I cannot love more than enough children. I cannot have Christ-like compassion for the child who shreds me with her brokenness. None of us can.

What wrecks me is this: God doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in what I can handle. He seems to care more about what He can handle.

And that just blows the question out of the water. At the end of the day, fostering is not about me. It’s never been about me. It’s not about my ability as a mother, my desires as a human being, or even my comfort level as an American.

It’s about what God has called me to do through His power working in me to love my Savior by loving His children. It is the thing that makes the “wanting to” irrelevant and the “able to” inconsequential. God wants, and God is able. That is enough.

Enough kids

Enough kids

Do I want more children?

The only people who ask that question are clearly not God because that is not a question God ever asks.

God does not ask if we want to love unwanted children (James 1:27). He doesn’t even have the consideration to ask us if we’re able to. With all the audacity of the Lord of the Universe, He assumes that if we’re breathing, we can do better than just think of ourselves and do for ourselves because He did better, and it is His power at work in us equipping us to be and do like Him. Not our strength. Not our ability (Ephesians 3:20).

It’s scary to believe it. I do not like to jump into the unknown and hope to heaven I land on supernatural wings. I am afraid, and that fear would make me turn tail and run if not for this: my fears do not excuse my obedience to God.

Fears are the stuff of shadows anyway. Worst-case scenarios rarely happen. The worries I toss about in my head are minor in comparison to the actual, horrific suffering of real children, right now.

I look at my home, my godly, patient husband and my compassionate, loving children, and I know that I cannot allow imaginary hurts to keep us from infusing living hope into a child’s present, perpetual, real-life.

That doesn’t mean hurts won’t happen. We will do everything we can to prevent them, but love doesn’t always come out clean. Our five kids might feel the sting of it

But for our sixth child, it will hurt much, much less. Infinitely, eternally, less than life hurts now.

That is the thing that keeps me pressing forward when my heart fails. Do I want more kids? No.

What I want is to get to the end of my wants. I want to get to the end of controlling and taking on only what I can do. I want the immense privilege of seeing what God can do through me. That fills me with unspeakable, illogical joy at the prospect of being used as He wills. I have a Christ-like love for a child who is not my own and all the anticipation of Christmas at the gift—the privilege—of being his mother, no matter the cost.

Why do I want more kids?

That is why.

God is able

Making Room for 1 More

We’re Expecting!

Making Room for 1 More

I have been dying to tell you the wonderful news: Five in Tow is about to grow!  Jeff and I are excited to announce that we’re expecting.

I know you probably thought we were done having children.  Five certainly is a handful, at least that’s what the Costco sample ladies tell me when my kids clear out their toothpicked cheese cubes in one fell swoop.

There’s also the small part about how motherhood didn’t come easy to me.  It took me about…well, five kids to get broken in to this gig, and for some time prior to that, I threatened to pack up my children and send them to Argentina.

But, this child, this sixth child, is something different. This child is not growing in my womb.  This child has been growing in my heart since I was old enough to notice that not all children have it good.

Not all children are safe.

Not all children are wanted.

Not all children are loved.

And not all people who can do something about it are.  Including me. 

Many years ago, before I was married, I wanted to adopt all the babies.  I had lived in third world countries and worked with street children and orphans.  By the time I was nineteen, I had seen more unwanted children than I could bear. I determined to do something about it.

But then I got married.  And pregnant.  And pregnant again, and…every time I thought about adding another child to our home, life would get crazy and I would wonder what on earth I was thinking.

I began to believe that I really am terribly busy, and I have used those Costco ladies as my justification for passing up many opportunities to be Christ to this hurting world.  I have my hands full already, thankyouverymuch.

But God’s been talking to me about being the Word, and it’s all terribly more self-sacrificial than I am comfortable with.

So I read all through the Word looking for some fine print that would exempt me from anything harder than where I am right now.  What I found was Jesus telling poor people to care for poorer people.  Jesus telling busy people to stop and bind up the wounds of the hurting.  Jesus telling moms who pounded out their daily bread to feed the widows and the orphans with some of it.  Jesus saying, “Hey, the harvest is ready, but the trouble is, none of you are willing to stop what you’re doing and labor for me.”

So we stopped.  We prayed.  We talked to our kids.  We did the next thing, and the next thing more.  Now, we are knee-deep in the foster licensing process with the intention of adopting a child out of the system.  We have to get the licensing part done before Jeff deploys, which is so insane, our case worker is developing a twitch.  But we have a set of fire extinguishers in our kitchen and fingerprints on file and a whole lot of friends and family with permanent hand cramps because they had to fill out pages of references forms on us.

It is labor, all of it.  But with the labor comes great expectation, abundant joy, and a good share of nausea.

I hear that’s normal for expectant parents.    

just act normal

Hopefully, we can act like a normal family for a few weeks longer so we can wrap up the foster-licensing process.  Jeff will deploy, and even though it’s not ideal to welcome a new child to the home while the father is away, we’re kind of over waiting for ideal. When it comes to foster care, there is no ideal.

Our hope is to foster-adopt, so we are praying that the Lord will bring us the right child right away so that we can begin the legal process as quickly as possible.  Jeff will be getting orders to a new duty station soon after he completes his deployment, and we need to complete the adoption while we’re still living in Texas…or we might lose the child and have to start the whole thing all over again.

But even if we cannot adopt, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to love and invest in another child for as long as God lets us have her.  When you think about it, that’s really what  parenting is all about.

Won’t you pray for us?  We’re expecting God to show up big time because this whole thing is crazy-scary and infinitely bigger than us.  Those are exactly the circumstances God seems to like the most, when I have nothing of my own to offer and He gets to remind me why He’s God, and I’m not.

Pray particularly for this sixth child who may, at this very moment, be experiencing unspeakable trauma at the hands of those who are supposed to love him.  Pray pray for the family who is so broken, a child isn’t safe in their care.  Finally, pray that we will remain steadfast and diligent as we labor to make room for one more.

Six in tow?  I kinda like the sound of that.

noise

Noise

noise

Cutting the noise

“You’re so intimidating,” she said to me from across steaming cups of coffee.

The words tumbled off her lips shyly, like they weren’t sure of themselves, but they rumbled through me like a sudden clap of thunder.

I sat there with a fake smile on my face and a too-loud laugh in my throat while she talked about my blog and how she just wanted to sit and listen to me.

I would have thought it was funny, except she was serious.  And that was devastating.   

All this time, I had been writing real, or so I thought. In every post, I tore open my heart and parsed out the contents into print. I dragged my blog right through the daily muck with me, and prayed readers would hold on for the redemption. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it wasn’t. But all the time, I fought to be real—really real, not just the pretend real that gains readers but lacks sincerity.

I didn’t want to be insincere.

I didn’t want readers.

I wanted co-laborers. Journeymen. Sisters. I thought writing real was enough to keep us walking side-by-side. I thought that was enough to keep the words from elevating me as we all seek to elevate Christ.

But it wasn’t.

noise

This woman thought, somehow, that I was worth being intimidated by, and it left me spinning. What have I been doing wrong?

Just as soon as I asked the question, I knew the answer because God is good like that. He often gives the answers first and provides the ram before I realize the altar is bare.

All along He had been whispering the answer to my heart.  “Be the Word incarnate,” but I didn’t understand.

Now here I was, sitting next to a woman who thought I was intimidating because she knew my words and not my flesh. She knew only the bits about me that could be seen through the peephole of a blog.

Suddenly, I got it.  I had been ministering in word only, and it was not enough.

I am called to be like Christ in word and flesh, inspiration and incarnation. One without the other leads to irrelevance or irreverence, and often, both. How quickly we elevate those with golden tongues or pretty words! And how easily lifeless words fall from the lips of those who have no connection to real hurt, real brokenness, and real suffering.

That’s exactly what I was doing–writing lifeless words from the safety of my laptop.  I never had to show more than I wanted or get my hands dirty in a ministry I couldn’t control.  It was all very tidy and conveniently removed.

But words are meant to be incarnate. Otherwise, they are nothing but self-promoting noise, no matter how honest or real they are. “If I speak [or write] in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

If I write a viral blog post but do not have time to help a woman get through a deployment, I have not love. If my article is reposted by a big-name Christian personality, but I hate the people who leave insensitive comments, I have not love. If I land a book contract and have people waiting in line for my signature, but I can’t be bothered to feed the hungry or care for the orphan, I have not love.

What I have is a bunch of noise.

If there is one thing the world doesn’t need more of, it’s more noise.

We don’t need more professional preachers.

We don’t need more blog posts.

We don’t need more legislation.

We don’t need more people who sit on one side of the stained-glass windows, splitting hairs.

We don’t need more intimidating Christians.

What we need is Christ lived out in the flesh and blood of His body, the Jesus who had dirt under his fingernails and bags under his eyes, who gave out bread while his stomach growled and held out his heart to people who would not—could not—do right by it, the Jesus who did not write a single word of his gospel because he was too busy living it.

Word

Word incarnate

Word.

Incarnate.

Anything else is just noise, and noise is not love, not matter how good the marketing is.

And I did not want to spend my life on noise.

I had been asked to apply for a position on the Executive Board of the Protestant Women of the Chapel at Fort Bliss. It is a ministry to military women, by military women. Every week, nearly 160 women and children come to us to get more of Jesus.

Only I didn’t want to apply because I thought I already had enough to do.

I already had a ministry, and lots of words to prove it.

But that woman said the one thing that could have changed my mind. You’re so intimidating. You are word but not flesh.

Just like that, God won the one-sided wrestling contest I was holding in my soul. I  interviewed for a position on the board and was offered the presidency.

It blew the peephole wide open. No longer did anyone have reason to find me intimidating. After months and months of ministering together, it is clear that I am just as messy and inglorious and cracked as the rest of them.

Serving as president of this ministry has been beautiful exhausting, the most fun I’ve ever had, and the very thing God had in mind for me all along.  Every day, the tide goes out in me, and nothing is left but the mud. But every day, God brings it back again, and everyone can see what is really worthy of praise in me: Him.

It is real. Messy. Incarnational.

Just the way words are meant to be.

Advent pendant

Last Minute Advent Pendant

Advent pendant

Cheery Advent pendant

My kids have been asking, “How many days until Christmas?” ever since the stores started hauling out the Christmas stuff.

So pretty much forever.

Now that it’s actually December, I wanted to give them a way to count down the days until Christmas without having to ask me thirty times a day (not that I don’t love that).

Advent craft

We have done Advent calendars in the past: you know, those flimsy little drug store calendars filled with tiny bits of chocolate that fall out on the wrong days and make kids cry. I’ve had stacks of them on top of my fridge every Christmas for the past few years, and I am always so happy to throw them away on Christmas Eve because they no longer look charming and everyone is kinda bitter about the fact that we spent actual money on them.

This year (read: yesterday) I decided I wanted to do something different. With Jeff deploying to Africa just a few weeks after Christmas, these days are precious. In one sense, the countdown to Christmas is also a countdown to his departure.

There is not enough chocolate in the world to make me want to count down to that.

Instead, I wanted to celebrate each day we have together, and each day we count down to the most glorious miracle of Christ’s birth, with a calendar that focuses on the time we have as a family.

Advent pendant garland

Advent pendant garland over what my landlord calls “caramel” colored walls.

I decided to make an Advent pendant banner using Christmas card stock. Now, I thought of this brilliant idea at exactly 2:45 yesterday afternoon, and at exactly 2:45 yesterday afternoon, I realized I did not have Christmas card stock.

Off to Hobby Lobby I went. Except Hobby Lobby is closed on Sunday. Off to Walmart I went! Except Walmart was a bust. Off to Target I went (at this point, I was absolutely not going to be back in five minutes like I had promised). Target had one option for Christmas card stock, and after fighting my way through the crowds of people buying stuffed Olafs, I did not even care what the paper looked like. Christmas card stock: check!

I realized later that I could have used plain paper and it would have worked just fine.  Alas.

DIY Advent steps

Creating the pendants is a breeze. Each of my card stock squares was 6×6 inches, so I cut each square in half with my paper cutter (you can also use scissors). That gave me two 3×6 rectangles. I cut the rectangles from the top corners to the bottom center, giving me two triangle pendants from each square of card stock.

24 triangles later, I assembled my banner on a jute string using two dabs of hot glue on each corner of the pendants.

DIY Advent calendar

DIY Advent calendar

Viola! My Advent banner was assembled.

Now, your temptation at this point will be to make this more complicated than it needs to be. But mammas, it is December 1st and you are thinking of making an Advent calendar.  The over-achiever Christmas crafty train left way back in October.

We are now in Get ‘Er Done mode.

So, you could add decorations to your pendants. You could. Don’t.

Advent garland

Advent garland

I did add two little buttons on the ends of the jute string while I was waiting for my hot glue gun to heat up, but I gave myself a good talking to when I considered adding little decorations to each pendant. That’s crazy talk right there.

However, I happened to have a scalloped, round paper punch so I did punch out 24 circles for the dates. If you do not have a scalloped paper punch, do not panic. This step is completely optional. You could write the dates directly on the banners, or add bits of ribbon or strips of paper for the dates.

I affixed each date to a pendant using a big glob of hot glue to give dimension to the date circles. Once they dried, I ran my finger under the edge to make sure the date circles popped up a little.

Then, I simply wrote the dates on with gold Sharpie, flipped the banner over, and added a fun Advent activity to the back of each pendant.

Advent ideas

Advent ideas

Could not be easier.

A simple, gold-Sharpied clothespin helps us keep track of the days.  Just move it over one day as you count down to Christmas.

Make an advent calendar

Advent pendant

Now, if you have trouble thinking of Advent activities, you’re probably trying to get on that over-achiever train again.  Stop it.  Christmas does not have to be crazy, bigger-than-life, or expensive to be wonderful.  In fact, your Advent list can include many of the things you already do during the Christmas season:

*Bake cookies

*Watch The Nutcracker

*Go to the church Christmas program

*Have cocoa and candy canes

*Make a gingerbread house

*Read The Night Before Christmas

*Go caroling

*Make gifts for teachers and friends

*Deliver cookies to neighbors

*Attend a Christmas concert

*Take the Polar Express to look at Christmas lights

*Make snowflakes

*Go ice skating

*Make a Christmas craft

*Read the Christmas story

*Look at pictures of past Christmases

*Sip eggnog around the Christmas tree

*Make homemade marshmallows

*Watch Frosty the Snowman

*Read How the Grinch Stole Christmas

*Volunteer at a local charity

*Play in the snow!

*Reenact the Christmas story

*Draw names and do something nice for another family member

*Open ONE present (this is our activity for the last day of Advent–Christmas Eve!)

You get the idea.  The goal is to be intentional about spending time together, doing the things you love to do, creating memories as a family.  Each day, have the kids write about the activity on the back of that day’s pendant.  After the Christmas season is over, you’ll have a memory to cherish.

And isn’t that better than cheap chocolate?  Any day.

Countdown to Christmas

Countdown to Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green light

Green Light

I’m going to tell you something your mamma probably never did: Sometimes, God doesn’t rent a billboard to tell you what to do.  He doesn’t always do the light-show-and-thundering-trumpets routine to confirm you’re on the right track.

Sometimes, He just expects you to have read His Words and to do them.

Green light

The end.

No chubby cherubs dancing in the stars.

No warm fuzzy feelings or great excitement.

No road maps.

No visions.

Just, “Hey, I already told you what to do if you love me. So…just do that.”

Sometimes, God isn’t very complicated. And it irritates me every time because I kinda prefer the thunder over the still, small voice.  I have a distrust of easy when it comes to God.  If it’s hard and God is loud, I think I’m doing something right.

But what if the decision is painfully easy, like whether or not to drive through a green light, and God just sits there, riding shotgun, like he expects you to, well, drive?

Drive

That’s when I start getting a little obsessive about things.  What if he wants me to turn instead of go straight? What if I’m driving too fast or miss a stop or I don’t know where I’m going?  What if I don’t like this road? What then?!

And he sits there, half asleep, and says, “Kristen, the light is green.”  As if that’s all there is to it.

I much prefer it when God says, “Turn left.  Turn LEFT!  TURN LEFT!!!”

I think if God is shouting, I won’t get lost.  I won’t mess it up.  But what if some roads always lead to the right place, and it’s only my selfish will that makes me wander around in the first place?

Which brings me to this past March.  Life was under control and my personal comfort level was at an all-time high.  I was parked, doing what I thought God wanted and feeling quite good about it.

Then God whispered, “The light is green.”

It shocked me because I didn’t know I was sitting at a light, and I certainly wasn’t planning on driving in that particular direction.

I was asked to consider applying to be the president of the Protestant Women of the Chapel. PWOC, as we call it in the Army, is a weekly gathering of like-minded women of faith who come together to worship, pray, learn, and grow.  It’s kind of like a weekly church meeting, complete with music and small group Bible studies.

Groups just like ours meet on military installations all over the world, and we are impacting our posts for Christ wherever we are by being an extension of the chapel communities and assisting the chaplains however we can.  We are military women serving military women.

It’s a stinkin’ big deal.

So of course I said, “No way.” I did not have time for one more thing (which, in French means, “This scares me to death, and also, I can think of at least twenty-three people who are more qualified”).

But people kept asking, and they all said the same thing, “Just pray about it.  And while you’re praying about it, fill out this ten-page application.”

 

So I did. I hauled myself home and had my own personal Burning Bush experience, minus the burning bush and double the complaining about why God should pick someone else.

  • I already have a ministry!
  • I am not organized enough to lead a board of sixteen women!
    I am barely organized enough to homeschool (See: 3/5 of my children don’t know how to spell their last name).
  • I don’t have an extra 20 hours a week to do anything, and if I did, I’d clean my kitchen. Or teach spelling.
  • I haven’t been a military spouse long enough.  The only rank I can identify is my husband’s, so I just walk around calling everyone “Sir” just in case.  People are going to figure out I don’t know anything.
  • I am an introvert.  Introverts should have blogs, not be president of a large group of women who might want to have sleepovers and scrapbooking parties.
  • People will be disappointed in me.  Truly.  I’m just not going to look good if I do this.  Which will make you look bad too, God.  You should think about that.

When I finally gave God a chance to say, “You’re right. You can’t do this,” he didn’t.  He didn’t say much of anything.  No writing on the wall, no dreams, just that same still, small voice that seemed to say, “Kristen, the light is green.”

Which, in my mind, meant I needed a second opinion.

My husband, who was not much more help than the burning bush, asked, “What are you going to give up?”

“I can’t give anything up!” I said.  “I’m not doing this. I can’t do this.  I can barely function with everything I have on my plate right now.”  I cried a little for good measure because sometimes he offers to do the dishes if I cry about how busy I am.

We had made up our minds.  I only prayed about it anyway because I said I would.  The more I prayed about it, the more God kept messing with my comfortable, Christian life.  I went to PWOC as usual and was overwhelmed with opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ to women who desperately needed it.

I began to see that I was parked at a green light.

No parking

That green light kept blinking in time to gospel words that said, This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me…”

And it slowly dawned on me that perhaps remembering Christ’s sacrifice was more than just eating a hunk of crusty bread and slamming Welch’s shots once a month.  Maybe Christ expected me to remember his sacrifice by doing likewise.  Actually, physically, with my own hands-and-feet-doing the very things he told me to do.  Loving.  Feeding.  Finding.  Shepherding. Giving.  Sharing.  Binding.  Healing.  Going.  Sending.  Praying.  Rejoicing.  Communing.

Green lights, every one of them.

It was so completely obvious, I missed it.

I was looking for the billboard, the blazing lights, the trumpet-tooting cherubs with Mapquest directions to God’s will. “God! Please show me if you want me to serve these women!” I pleaded, and then wondered why he wasn’t talking.

It’s because the light on that road is always green.  I didn’t need a billboard.  I just needed to drive through.